At the beginning of the spring semester, we asked student Lina Beron Echavarria about her first impressions of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Now, after a semester in country, we reconnected with Lina.
What did you like most about the SFS experience?
My favorite part of my SFS experience has been learning about and discussing the social aspects and implications of environmentalism in our Environmental Policy and Socioeconomic Values class and then applying these theories to my Directed Research on cultural ecosystem services. Through my research, I have gotten the opportunity to interview several residents of South Caicos, asking them how they view and use their environment and if they connect with it in spiritual, ceremonial, educational, and inspirational ways. This experience has been immensely valuable because I have often been in the position of a natural scientist who doesn’t really have to go through the process of asking their subjects or stakeholders for their thoughts, views, and opinions when collecting data. I have sat through several stories (some long, some crisp), meandering myths, nostalgic strolls down memory-lane, and resolute monologues from people who agreed to share their connection with and/or disconnection from nature. I have learned about their past and that of the island and how they see the future of both. More importantly, I have been privileged enough to meet several community members and know what their honest thoughts and feelings are in regards to their natural surroundings – these notions and emotions, I have learned, are the backbone and the seeds to any environmental work.
You’ve been in the country for a full semester – tell us your impressions of it now.
Simply put, the Turks and Caicos Islands are beautiful. From what I have seen so far, Providenciales, the most populated island in the TCI, is cheerful and has diverse people, foods, and recreations; North Caicos is peaceful, rich in mosquitoes and history, and has amazing watermelons and papayas; Middle Caicos is lush, full of deep caves and secrets, and has beaches that fondle cliffs with human faces; but South Caicos, our home, I cannot summarize in a single sentence. If you cannot see the sea from South Caicos, you can smell it, hear the reef roar, taste the salt being carried away by the breeze, or feel the crunch of seawater crystals on your toes. South Caicos residents seem to be empowered by this, and perhaps that is why they are so eager to convene, to talk, and always wish you the best of days. When I first arrived to South Caicos, I was very shocked by the level of voracity with which hurricanes Irma and Maria swiped the island’s infrastructure. The vestiges are still there, but when you meet the people behind them, when you attend church and the whole building stands tall and eternal with vibrant resonant prayers and voices, you know the fortitude, energy, and resilience of the community is there to withstand the strain no building can.
What is life at the Center really like? What are the best and the most challenging parts?
Life at the Center is busy, and it takes a bit of time to get used to it as our schedule is packed almost every day of the week. We have class during most of the day, so we get to spend a lot of time in the classroom. This can become challenging at times, but it also brings people together and makes the night a great time to gather and relax, play a board game, or go for a walk.
The best part of the Center is my room and its view. We have decorated our blue walls with all sorts of artwork, poems, challenges, found objects, and shells. My three roommates and I have an amazing dynamic. Whenever we need a break, we reconvene in the room, we turn the oil diffuser on and we zap flies with an electric racket; that is, if we don’t feel like painting with watercolors or playing pick-up sticks. When you open the door, you have the flat radiant sea at your feet, and it is so close you can jump in during a pee-break between classes. Having the ocean in such close proximity helps cool down the days when there is too much on our schedule.
What ended up being your biggest challenge this semester both academically and culturally?
My biggest academic challenge this semester has been getting used to the intensive nature of the program. I am used to having three to four hours of class a day at college, so adapting to having eight hours of class a day has been arduous, especially when knowing the big sea is right outside of our classroom.
My biggest cultural challenge this semester has been getting used to the food. South Caicos gets most of their food from ships coming from Miami (through Providenciales) or the Dominican Republic. Therefore, there is very little variety of food and a great deal of it is packaged, all of which I am not very used to. I have slowly gotten accustomed, however, and it’s been fun coming up with creative combinations and methods of making my meals here more exciting (i.e. the basil bushes near the picnic table).
What is the best memory you have from the semester? Give some highlights.
During our orientation week, we went on a land tour of the island. At the end, we stopped at Coast Guard, the northern tip of South Caicos. From the edge of the cliff, the whole group gaped at the view in full awe. I hadn’t seen that many shades of turquoise, teal, and blue in a single painting. Light illuminated every single particle of limpid water, giving the mangroves surrounding it a radiant halo and making it easy to spot migrating eagle rays. When I stood there, the first thing I thought was “Oh my, I wonder if I will ever get to swim across these sublime crystalline waters…” And we did! Two weeks ago, a group of us went all the way up to Coast Guard, and we swam from one side of the peninsula to the other. With sturdy coral heads greeting us from below, we fought a strong current and arrived at the shallow sand banks, where we had to swim cautiously on top of an infestation of quirky upside-down jellyfish. From there, we peeked into the little crevices created by the legs of the mangroves and spotted sea eggs and sponges hanging from the structure while juvenile snappers and barracudas were simply hangin’. Not only were we swimming through a blue-walled paradigm, I was finally discerning all the key roles I had just learned mangroves play in coastal and marine ecosystems.
Give three adjectives that best describe how you are feeling right now.
Fulfilled, tired, connected